In D&D, Letting Everyone Roll Certain Checks Guarantees Success, So Why Bother Rolling?

As a dungeon master, I rarely ask everyone in the party to make perception, investigation, or knowledge checks, because someone almost always rolls high. With these checks, just one high roll yields the information the players want. Why bother rolling for a virtually certain outcome?

I asked this question of Dungeons & Dragons fans and gained hundreds of responses.

Many comments mentioned that passive checks—especially passive Wisdom (Perception) checks—fit most times everyone might roll.

So why roll instead?

Even though DMs realize that saying “everyone roll” almost guarantees success, they ask because players enjoy rolling. For many players, the game only begins when the dice fly.

Plus, “everyone roll” is D&D theater. You know the outcome but asking grabs attention and spurs the players into real-world action. Jamie LaFountain writes, “Everyone rolling is a nice smoke-and-mirrors trick when you want to get a piece of information out to the group and give the illusion of risk of failure.”

Sometimes everyone rolls without a request from the DM. One person makes a check, and all the other players snap to attention and try too. For example, the character at the dungeon door looks it over, muffs a perception check, and then everyone else starts rolling and calling numbers. What should a DM do?

First, you might gently remind your players that rolling a check that the DM didn’t request counts as a slight lapse of table decorum. “When I’m a player I loathe that everyone at the table feels the need to also roll a check,” Sam Witkowski writes. Such piling on robs the active player of their moment—their chance to be rewarded for their action. Checks should happen when a DM decides that a character’s action in the game world merits a check.

Ask the other players what their characters do. If nobody approaches to spot the door’s faded inscription, ignore their checks. If everyone takes a turn up close, consider any time pressure, but let everyone roll (and maybe a wandering monster opens the door from the other side).

Actions prompt checks, so making a perception check typically means taking a closer look. If the party just crosses a room and you want to see if someone notices a trap door, D&D’s rules suggest using passive Wisdom (Perception) rather than calling for a roll. You can limit passive checks to those closest to the trap door, so players benefit from letting the perceptive character lead. (And remember in dim light, the check is at disadvantage, a passive -5. Darkness counts as dim light for characters relying on darkvision.)

Players pile on lore checks too. These are checks against skills like History, Arcana, and Religion to discover if a character brings some knowledge to a situation. Everybody rolling for knowledge typically assures success. Such group rolls often show that the most unlikely character knows some bit of obscure lore.

Group knowledge rolls diminish the choices of players who invested proficiency in knowing things. If you always let everyone roll for an inevitable success, the value of knowledge skills drops to almost nothing. Success comes from making five rolls rather than from proficiency.

When everyone rolls, the one sage proficient in a skill will seldom roll a better success than the four know-nothings in the party. Still, some DMs enjoy the surprise of seeing the barbarian beat the wizard’s arcane knowledge. Such occasions can reveal character.

The next time every character wants to pile on a knowledge check, consider letting them, but ask players to roll only if they think their character might know something. Then if the barbarian lucks into a 20, say, “I’ll tell you about the enchantment on the door, but first can your tell me how someone fostered by wolves knows about wards forged on the plane of Mechanus?” Asking “how can this be so?” fuels creativity. “The barbarian may not know what that symbol means is or what civilization used it, but they remember seeing something similar 10 years ago on a crypt outside of Blahland,” writes Jonathan Hibberd. Either players add interesting bits of background to their characters, or they admit to knowing nothing.

Letting everyone roll a lore check works best when you have lots of information to offer. Every success yields a fun fact. By granting information for good rolls, you can make an information dump feel like a series of rewards.

For extra value, try to make the tidbits feel unique to each character’s background, nature, and outlook. D.W. Dagon writes, “A Religion check from a cloistered scholar is going to be resolved very differently to the same check from an outlander. It’s a great opportunity to bring forth each character’s unique backstory in a way which forwards story.”

DMs who want to see if a character discovers a secret may ask for everyone to roll. The player who succeeds gains confidential information. Don’t do this if you expect players to share the information. Players tend to guard secrets, even when they have no reason to.

Everyone roll almost guarantees success, but sometimes no one rolls better than a 6—including the character starting with a +5. If you call for everyone to roll, expect success, but be ready for a fail. If the adventurers must know something, then just tell them.

Some DMs keep track of characters’ proficiencies for this purpose. “If I can prepare,” Thomas Christy writes, “I love to find out who is trained in pertinent skills, and then feed their players information ahead of the session.” During the game, the players can reveal their knowledge in-character. When players remember their knowledge, Tom rewards inspiration.

You can treat knowledge skills as passive. Without a roll, tell players what their character knows based on, say, their Intelligence (Religion) bonus. I often reveal lore based on characters’ proficiencies and background. For instance, the druid knows of the cursed trees surrounding the grove, while the dwarf knows about the flooded mine. This technique works especially well for the information players must learn to continue. Essential backstory feels like a reward for a character’s choices. Players won’t know what knowledge comes from their characters’ aptitude and what you had to reveal to advance the plot.

If you want to make checking for a bit of obscure lore into a real test, allow fewer characters to roll.

  • Limit the check to characters with proficiency. This rewards the cleric proficient in religion even if their knowledge is hampered by low Intelligence.

  • Limit the check to the active character, possibly just the person who asked, and then grant advantage based on the party’s advice and assistance. This encourages action.

  • Limit the check to the most knowledgeable character, and then grant advantage based on the party’s help. I love when this enables a quiet player to gain the spotlight based on their character’s aptitude.

You can impose similar limits on investigation. Limit Intelligence (Investigation) rolls to the best detective or to the active character, and then grant advantage based on the help from other characters.

Wisdom (Insight) checks commonly lead to pile-on checks. If you want any intrigue and deception in your game, then more than one person should never roll a Wisdom (Insight) check. Next week, I’ll explain how to cope with Insight.

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20 Responses to In D&D, Letting Everyone Roll Certain Checks Guarantees Success, So Why Bother Rolling?

  1. Dusey says:

    In chapter 7 of the PHB it says
    “Group Checks
    When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren’t.

    To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails.”

    I like to let the players know that if they make a group check, I’ll enforce his rule. This way it’s not an auto success, and it usually dissuades them since the chances are lower than if the one proficient PC rolls. Then it’s easier to limit group rolls when it makes sense for the group to be working together.

    It may feel odd for knowledge checks to be a group check (I usually prefer that it’s not) but if happens for some reason, and it’s a failure, one way to justify it in fiction is that two people in the group have opposing knowledge, but one of them is wrong, therefore the group is unsure of how to proceed.

    Love your blog!

  2. timothypark says:

    Much of this is avoided per RAW via Passive Checks. I make a little spreadsheet for the players where I collect a mix of practical and game information. Player Name, Best Contact method, Character Name, Race, Class(es), Level(s), and then not only Passive Perception, but also Passive Insight, and what I call Passive Knowledge, and Passive Social.

    For the last two I have the player take their best INT based skill and CHA based skill, and make a Passive out of it.

    This is not a precise tool. But what it does is at a glance I know who will “notice” what. In four numbers. It maps the personality and personalities of the party quickly and usefully. I came up with it because at most tables I played at there was an artificial boost to those with high Perception and Initiative. I wanted to include more of my players and *at least invite their participation*.

    With those stats I know who I can “pitch” things to, or should. Be it description to the group referencing the individual, a passed note, prepared item card or what have you.

    How it works? Just like passive perception, mostly.

    A group of adventurers wanders down the street of a city. The Rogue, very *aware* (high Passive Perception) notices that odd building with the strange statue. The player has the opportunity to say something. The Rogue is not learned or anything so what is noticed is “that building is different or odd”. The Cleric might well agree and has been informed by me that this is no temple (I happen to know that he has a decent but not great “Passive Intelligence” based on his Religion skill). So between them they know that it’s odd, and what it’s not. “Yo, Wizard, wake up! See that building? What do you make of it?” Because the Wizard has a horrible perception and low Wisdom and rather plays the absent minded scholar. However the Passive Intelligence being really high (and from several sessions I know that History and Arcana are specialties for that character), can be informed that it is very out of place, a library, of this culture or another, and more research is necessary.

    I’ve just engaged three characters without dice in roleplaying based on their characters without putting myself out much.

    As I’ve explained: “Perception lets you know ‘something is up’, Investigation let’s you know ‘what’s up’, and Arcana, History, Religion, Nature and Medicine let you know ‘Why it’s up.'”

    Once that is grasped a very effective too for roleplay and a broader use of the statistics and skills come easily.

    And it’s RAW. You can make a passive of any skill or stat.

  3. HDA says:

    I mean the obvious solution would be to roll everyone’s checks in secret, and give out differing information to everyone based on their rolls. They can trust the character with the highest bonus, but they won’t always be right…

  4. Michael Zhang says:

    When there’s a roll that multiple people can try, I ask for every character who is good at the skill to roll. Being good at a skill means either being proficient, or having a higher bonus than their current tier (so +2 or higher at tier 1, +3 or higher at tier 2, etc).

    The benefits of this system are:

    * Players still get to roll dice, which is more fun (and lends more uncertainty) than just using passives all the time.
    * It avoids the guaranteed success of everybody rolling.
    * Some DMs only let one player roll on checks like this, but I feel that punishes players for having similar skill sets. So if you have three wizards with Arcana in one party, the extra Arcana is completely wasted under that system, whereas under my rule, they all get to roll so they all increase the success rate due to their skill.
    * Since everyone eligible is rolling instead of spamming Help action on every check, this preserves the benefit of features that grant advantage on ability checks.
    * I used to just ask for proficient characters to roll, but that really devalues Jack of All Trades as well as characters with high ability modifier but no proficiency. Hence, I changed it to allow characters with a naturally high modifier to roll in addition to those proficient.

  5. Tyler W. says:

    Something I’ve enjoyed about Pathfinder 2e is that because checks scale quickly, if you aren’t proficient you are not going to be able to make the check and also many checks (like perception for sense motive or checking for traps) are “secret checks” where the GM rolls them and adds the character’s bonus.

    The “secret check” method could be used in D&D effectively but some players don’t enjoy it as much since they feel they don’t have as much control, it really depends on you and your group.

  6. Evan B says:

    I’ll never forget my first session as a DM. My players wanted to check out a fountain. First person rolled a 3. Every member of the party (5 players) made checks. Highest was an 8. It became 20 minutes of them jumping into and searching a small fountain while my NPC stared and judged. The fountain was simply a fountain. I still think they don’t fully believe me

  7. Stephën Miessner says:

    Our GM came up with a brilliant idea. Limit rolls to 2 people. That still lows aid another but locks down to only 2

  8. Drew Barrett says:

    I ran my first game that way with everyone roll and I hated it because like you said it was guaranteed they would get it. I don’t think I’ll ever run a game like that again and will instead ask for rolls from 1-2 players at most who have the skill OR are most likely to be the one to do it such as someone interacting with an object compared to the one with the skill across the room with their back turned. It allows for more secrets to be discovered naturally or simply left by the wayside should they fail.

  9. Ava says:

    I like letting one person roll and if someone else has proficiency in the skill (and it makes sense) I let that player assist them

  10. Matt V says:

    That’s a problem with any linear low-scaling dice system. Easiesr solution, switch to a non-linear system! The are more fun to boot

  11. RobOQ says:

    As a player I tend to get annoyed at rolling for every imaginable thing. I prefer, both as a player and a DM, to go by the rule of “if there isn’t an *interesting* outcome to both success and failure on the roll, leave the dice where they are and just describe the more interesting outcome.” I see very little point in rolling dice where a failure means “the situation doesn’t change at all.” At best, they slow down play overall. At worst, they bring the game to a screeching halt, when one or more characters miss some low DC Investigation roll and now the DM doesn’t want to hand over some vital information/plot hook regarding where the players should go next.

  12. Aaron Salinas says:

    Bro, do you even read rules??

  13. I was with you until you got into PC’s knowing & tracking the HP’s of the enemies. IMO that removes all the suspense and turns an RPG into a board game like Temple of Elemental Evil. Otherwise, great article.

  14. Kellin says:

    As a player, I often base my character’s checks on their personalities. Certain characters are more likely to make certain checks while others will flat out refuse. My High Elf Eldritch Knight (Sage background) often goes to the libraries while the party takes their long rest and reads up on on relevant info to our quest. Conversely, my dwarf cleric who is convinced the gods are hallucinations refuses to make history or religion checks, even if we are dealing with religious organizations.
    I think the real issue isn’t so much letting everyone make a check, as it is keeping the players and characters seperate. Perhaps only allow those who succeed on the check to aquire the information. (Write it on a slip of paper and hand it to them.) Leave it up to them to let others know about things. I find it fun to play campaigns where some of the characters are clueless because that leads to some of the most amusing situations. There was one session where our warlock tricked our paladin into walking into quicksand. We had another where our rogues noticed screaming bookshelves and didn’t bring it up for hours because they simply couldn’t give a shit. By letting everyone make the check, a new dynamic can be brought about. Just make sure player knowledge is kept separate from character knowledge.
    Of course, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve been lucky enough to play with people who are good at keeping player and character knowledge separate and some parties will struggle with it. Some parties may benefit from limiting who can make ability checks and ultimately it at the DM’s discretion what is best for their game.

  15. Daniel Smith says:

    I’ve always liked the concept of degrees of succes rather than pass/fail, and having it favor those who are proficient so if a wizard and barbarian make an arcana check they not only know slightly different details, but the wizard will always know better or more details barring background relevance.

  16. Jacob Brewster says:

    Love this advice. I often find my players wanting to throw dice till their problems are solved. I like your ideas here to help alleviate this problem without being totalitarian

  17. Dan says:

    In a dungeon setting one of the most important things is that each character can only do one thing per turn, to impose clear limits on what they can accomplish in the span of a single turn, and to force them to be specific about what they’re doing. So if they’re searching for secret doors or structural traps (pits, swinging blades, etc.) then each person can only cover maybe a 10′ section in 10 minutes. Or if looking for a small poison needle or gas trap, a like amount of time might be spent examining a single chest. In most cases I’d only let one or two characters investigate a single section or object at a time, otherwise they’re just getting in each other’s way. Then if they really want to focus all their efforts on one particular thing, an extra wandering monster check is all but assured. DCs should also be strong enough that there’s still a real chance of failure even if two or three unskilled characters are all looking; I’d probably start with 15 for anything moderately well-hidden, a 20 for anything small and intricate, and at least 25 for anything magically hidden.

  18. Gondlar says:

    I’m late to thge party, but there’s something I do that hasn’t been mentioned so far, so I thought I might share it. When I ask my entire party to roll, say, perception, it’s usually not to determine if they notice the strange runes above the door, but to determine who notices them first. When a more reckless character is the first to see something, things might go in a radically different direction than when a careful planner does.

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